Yesterday was the first day back in our usual routine. Daddy wasn't home. We weren't visiting anyone. No one was here visiting. Just us two - Nicknack and Mama. We didn't go anywhere or do anything special. It was just a quiet day at home together.
It wasn't pretty. N was SO cranky and whiny all day. Tons of tantrums. He absolutely trashed the house. By the end of the evening it looked like a monkey had supped in the dining room and then done some kind of toy-flinging dance on top of crackers in the living room. Nicknack's new molars meant a clammy, sopping wet chin/neck/pajama top, he had dried apricot smeared in his eyebrows, and he'd removed his PJ bottoms and one sock.
I temporarily forgot that my evening-time mantra about housekeeping is "this is what raising a toddler looks like" and sank down in defeat on the sofa, ready to count down the minutes until bedtime o'clock. My nerves were strained and I succumbed to a "poor me" pity party.
Just then Nicknack ran over and demanded "UP!" He loves sitting on the sofa. Except there isn't actually any sitting involved. Bouncing, yes. Running, yes. Climbing on mommy, yes. That's when the hair pulling started and the evening really went south.
I started with a gentle, but firm "No." No reaction from Nicknack - just more pulling. I tried "No!" He wouldn't let go. "NO." Then "NO!" Then "NICHOLAS LANE, NO!!!!" while pointing a finger at his face. I felt like I was shouting. Did I mention that I am against parental yelling? I don't remember my mother ever hollering at me and I don't want my kids running around yelling at each other or at other people, so I am just not a big advocate of the raised voice. My mother actually did the hushed, low voice when she was displeased with my behavior. However, I haven't found that to be effective with Nicknack.
So, since he was totally ignoring and semi-laughing at my words, I moved my body (and hair) to Penn's easy chair. N followed me, scampered up onto my lap, and yanked on my hair again. It really hurt!!
"Ouch!" I said dramatically, and removed his hand from my hair for the dozenth time. I was getting really annoyed. He was smiling and enjoying himself.
I tried taking him to his room. As soon as he came out he was laser-focused on getting hold of my hair. I tried pushing his hand away. I tried squeezing his hand. I tried slapping his hand. (Don't worry, not very hard.) I even tried tugging on his hair, to show him that what he was doing hurt, so he should stop. None of these tactics had any effect whatsoever and left me feeling like the worst mother in the world. I really wasn't using these techniques because I was angry - I was just trying to communicate that I wanted him to stop!
This went on an on, me getting more and more frustrated and using a more and more stern tone of voice (in an attempt to "discipline"), N getting wilder and goofier by the minute. Until finally bedtime arrived and I put him to bed.
Instead of going quietly into his crib or crying for, at most, a minute or two, like usual - he cried off an on for half an hour. He wouldn't be comforted by hugs, a song, a prayer, juice or anything that usually calms him. He seemed overtired and overstimulated and everything I tried to do to help just wound him up all the more. So I finally let him work it out on his own until he settled down and fell asleep.
As soon as the house was silent I started feeling like I'd really blown it. Say if the neighbors could see into our windows, or if someone had bugged the house... would they think I was being overly harsh?
When Penn came home I told him all about the events of the evening and how badly I felt. Like an ogre who'd spent half the evening (or at least a half hour of the evening) becoming increasingly "mean" in an attempt to win a battle of wills with a 19 month old. Penn, who always takes my side said, "What are you supposed to do, start wearing a swimming cap around the house all the time?" That mental image cheered me somewhat.
We spent most of the evening talking about our discipline goals/philosopy and doing internet research. We found a really good website called Ask Moxie where parents write in with questions and this woman does her best to give advice. And it is really good advice! Some of the best information is from the comments that her readers contribute to the discussion. She isn't a Pediatrician or Child Psychologist, but the philosophies and ideas that she and others shared on the website were really the most helpful thing we found. Things that they tried with their children, that worked. We got some new strategies for eating issues, potty training (which we are just now starting), and discipline. We also ordered a few books, based on recommendation from the site and Amazon's description/reviews. Parental Effectiveness Training, Playful Parenting, and Between Parent and Child. Also The Toddler's Busy Book.
I now realize that I handled the hair pulling exactly wrong. He was coming over to me for attention. And he found a behavior that definitely got my attention! What fun! The more excited I got about it the more I encouraged the behavior. I should have said "no, we don't pull hair..." then made the behavior that caused the "no" result in as little attention as possible. Mommy goes to the kitchen when her hair is pulled. She speaks in a flat, monotone voice. She doesn't make a lot of eye contact. She is very calm and dull and boring. Yawn. Then when she notices Nicknack doing something positive (playing independently, sitting like a normal person on sofa, whatever), she gets interested/interesting again. An excited voice, praise, eye contact, down on his level, etc.
And I should have thought less about what I wanted (peace and quiet... and a housekeeper) and more about what was motivating his behavior. He could have been acting up all day because his teeth hurt (those darn molars), or because he was going through Daddy withdrawal, or because he was missing all the extra fun and attention from family members and the holidays, or because he was bored being cooped up in the house all day. Or, you know, because he is 19 months old? So he probably needed a little more interaction/attention/stimulation from me - an activity or an outing somewhere. (Hence the purchase of the Toddler's Busy Book.)
By bedtime I was full of hope and determination and excited about starting over, fresh, this morning.
Meanwhile, Nicknack was up off and on all night and ended up in bed with us, which is fairly rare. We love having him with us, but he is so disruptive. He manages to push me off the king-sized bed (how is that possible when he weighs 27 pounds and I weigh... substantially more?) and kicks Pen continuously throughout the night. And, honestly, he seems to prefer sleeping in his own crib. But not last night - he wanted to be with us. Nothing else would do. Which is very out of the ordinary. I could be overanalyzing, but I honestly think that he is isn't used to "conflict" and he was probably worked up because mommy was agitated at him. And right before bedtime. I truly wasn't angry, more like annoyed - but I'm sure my behavior probably SEEMED like I was mad. The "Stop It!" and the finger wagging, and the hand swat.
So last night, every time he woke me up in the night I was so glad to have him there with us. It was a chance to cuddle with him and I felt like all the nighttime family bonding helped him feel more secure after the upsetting evening we'd shared.
And today has been so much better! Not only is he in a generally better mood, but when he made a passing attempt to grab my hair today I handled it well. It didn't magically cure the behavior or anything, but it was just like, no, we aren't doing that, no big deal, let's move on. And I made more of an effort to stop what I was doing and play with him today. Whereas usually I give him things for HIM to play with and then go on about my own activities.
So I dropped the ball yesterday. I temporarily lost sight of my parenting goals because I was too focused on myself. Big shock. But now I have a renewed sense of purpose and am feeling very optimistic about what we three can accomplish during these precious and precarious toddler years.
Which is good because we are both so ready for another baby and I've always felt that if I can't handle one child I shouldn't have another!